LOS ANGELES — Schools trying to protect kids from mass shootings are turning to gunshot detection systems, cellphone apps and artificial intelligence — a high-tech approach designed to reduce the number of victims.
Technology that speeds up law enforcement’s response and quickly alerts teachers and students to danger is a growing tool amid rising concerns over the inability to prevent shootings like the one last week at a suburban Denver high school. An 18-year-old student who rushed one of the gunmen died.
While a focus on gun control often emerges after school shootings, technology can be a less partisan solution that’s quick to implement — though some experts say funding preventive mental health resources should be the priority.
“We’ve kind of reached this state of frustration where we (feel like we) can’t protect our students,” said Dennis Kenney, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “What we’re trying to do is find some technological fix, and there isn’t one.”
Districts nationwide are recognizing that and instituting an approach that combines technology with mental health programs, bullying prevention and security officers.
“If I’m intent on shooting people at a school, there are 20 ways to do it,” said Erik Endress, CEO of Share911, a New Jersey-based company with an app that allows staff to immediately report to colleagues and police everything from medical conditions to active shooters.
“We can improve the outcome of these situations,” Endress said. “We can minimize the casualty count.”
While school attacks are relatively rare, they have been among the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.
The 1999 massacre of 13 people at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, ushered in a new era of school security but the carnage continued, including 27 people killed in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and 17 deaths last year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Joseph Erardi, a retired Newtown superintendent who came to the district a year after the shooting, said lawmakers pressed for “hardening” infrastructure at schools.
That has spurred a billion-dollar industry where companies manufacture products from “ballistic attack-resistant” doors to smoke cannons.